An Exercise For Parents:
Take a minute to think about each of your children individually. Is he or she old enough to attend school? Does he or she live in a diverse neighborhood or attend a diverse school? With whom does your child play or if they're older, who are your child's friends? How much do you know about the multi-cultural curriculum at your child's school? Can you recall the conversations you've had with your child about different cultures? While you were thinking about these questions, you may have come to one of a few possible conclusions: 1) your child's life experience is lacking exposure to other cultures, 2) your child has had a fairly multi-cultural experience, 3)you're not sure what type of multi-cultural experiences your child has had.
Now, enter the media. Your child probably had his earliest experiences with other cultures from television. Television tends to offer skewed representations of minorities (see the SMUT section below.) Children, expecially those who lack first-hand or positive experiences with other cultures, may be more likely to internalize these inaccurate representations of minorities. Some do so on the supposition that minorities are fairly represented on television. Author Joseph Tobin puts it best: Where else will a child in a small town in Wisconsin encounter Arabs than in Aladdin, Native Americans than in Pochahontas, or African Americans than on sitcoms, sports telecasts, or MTV?
Mass media has the power to influence children's attitudes, beliefs, and expectations about different ethnicities. You can empower your child with the tools to analyze the media's portrayal of various cultures (see Smart Key.)
SMUT- Four Cultural Issues Commonly Found in the Media:
Separation. We don't see people from different cultural backgrounds in close relationships enough on television and in movies. Rather we tend to see casts whose main actors are all of the same race and there is little positive cross-cultural interaction.
Misrepresentation. Minorities are often "associated with negative values and anti-social behavior." Minorities are also misrepresented when they are continually portrayed as a homogenous group rather than as individuals with a common ethnic background.
Under-representation. One of the biggest problems with under-representation is that by leaving non-white characters out of television shows and movies, producers are sending the message that those cultures are not valued or important enough to be shown. Children from non-white backgrounds don't see characters that look like them.
Tokenism. Sometimes we see television shows where there is only one character of a particular race and that character becomes, in the mind of some viewers, the representative for his entire race. Token, minority characters usually play supporting or minor roles.
*partially adapted from research done by Robert Entman and Andrew Rojecki, 1998 and research in the "race and class" section at childrennow.org.